Bad, but How Bad?

Supreme Court and Voting Rights

06.25.13 2:25 PM ET

I have to run to go cover Obama's climate speech, but I wanted to get something up quick about this. I am just sort of thinking out loud here.

Context: There are states and localities across the country that have to have legislative district lines "precleared" by the Justice Department. That map was determined back in 1965. But because of that don't think that it's been completely static since then. States and localities can apply to Justice saying we don't need to be covered anymore, and it's my understanding that there have been some changes to the map over the years as a result of those applications. A current map is here.

What the Court said is that that map is out of date and invalid. So now, those states and regions won't have to have their district lines precleared. (They would if Congress were to draw a new map; yeah, right.) So what's it mean?

First of all, let's think about Congress. It would seem to me that this decision can't have any real impact at the federal level until 2022, after the next census. Not sure I'm right about that. You tell me if I'm not.

On MSNBC, they're talking about voter suppression and such. I'm not sure I see a direct connection. For example, last fall, that judge in Pennsylvania threw out that voter ID law. But he didn't do so on Sec. 4-related grounds, because Pennsylvania isn't covered. I guess it's a factor in states that are covered, though. For example, someone just pointed out to me that Texas was in part waiting for this decision to push ahead with its strict voter ID law, which it will now pursue, presumably. Because Texas, you see, is covered. Or was. And Texas was/is on its way to becoming a swing state by 2024 or so, so this could have an impact on that.

Finally, are there presidential-level implications? Sure, if stricter voter ID laws are passed in certain swing states that were, until today, covered under the act. North Carolina springs first to mind. As a practical matter, if you think about the cross-set of states that are a)covered and b) competitive at the presidential level, you're talking about a very small number of states. Maybe Virginia, too, although I think such an effort would prove plenty controversial in Virginia, where blacks and white liberals have more political power than they do in North Carolina.

I will research these things and write a post eventually with more answers than questions. I have to go to the speech, and I just wanted to toss this out there. My overall hunch is that the biggest impact of this decision will be on the local level, and concentrated in the South. The impacts there could be quite large and harmful. But generally speaking it's my hunch that in states where, like Virginia, blacks have attained a certain baseline level of political influence, the impacts of this can be kept somewhat minimal, especially at the federal level. I know I'm supposed to be saying the sky is falling. And it's a terrible decision. But it could have been worse--they didn't strike down Section 5. And the left will mobilize. There are plenty of groups, with plenty of money, dedicated to this issue.